'Sanctuary' Laws: The New Immigration Federalism

57 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2016

Date Written: August 15, 2016


The policy of “immigration federalism” has justified granting state and local police officers greatly increased responsibilities for enforcing immigration laws, but the devolution of power has also generated enormous controversy. Supporters argue that the vast number of local police and their knowledge of local conditions can substantially assist federal immigration enforcement. Critics say that the policy has caused serious problems, including increased racial profiling and more pretextual arrests for minor crimes, and that the resulting alienation of immigrant communities has reduced public safety. The controversy is not just academic, as more than 270 local jurisdictions have adopted policies designed to resist immigration federalism. Some argue that these laws have only one purpose: to thwart federal enforcement and shelter illegal immigrants. National legislators have proposed legislation to squelch local resistance by cutting federal funds to those localities. Such responses are, however, fundamentally inconsistent with the very theory of federalism. The widespread resistance to immigration federalism is a state/local-inspired reaction to the serious, if unintended consequences of localized immigration policing. A true immigration federalist should view such local resistance not as mere opposition to quash, but as a “new immigration federalism,” a source of insight into the on-the-ground problems with current immigration policies. This article argues that the policies enacted as part of the local resistance movement point the way both to specific solutions, and to a better – and more theoretically sound – immigration federalism. This “new immigration federalism” is already having an effect on federal immigration policy.

Keywords: Immigration policing, Federalism, sanctuary law, crimmigration

Suggested Citation

Armacost, Barbara E., 'Sanctuary' Laws: The New Immigration Federalism (August 15, 2016). Virginia Public Law and Legal Theory Research Paper No. 2016-45, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2823925

Barbara E. Armacost (Contact Author)

University of Virginia School of Law ( email )

580 Massie Road
Charlottesville, VA 22903
United States
804-924-3413 (Phone)
804-924-7536 (Fax)

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